How to Explain Your Writing Journey to Friends and Family

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It has come to my attention that those closest to me do not understand my writing journey. They wonder why I spend so much time with my nose in books (you have to read what you write!) and my eyes glued to my computer screen. They wonder why I don’t write a different genre. They wonder what webinars and podcasts are. They wonder what SCBWI, 12×12, Storystorm, ReFoReMo etc. etc. etc. are. But most of all they probably wonder why I don’t have a bazillion published books.

Chill it's only Chaos

Image credit: Frog Spot Blog

The publishing world is confusing! So I thought I’d write a little something to help my friends and family understand the process to becoming a published picture book author. And who knows? Maybe this post will help my kid lit pals, too.

Here’s my writing journey in a nutshell:

My love for picture books was rekindled after my son was born 9 years ago.

Okay, rewind.

Remind friends and family about your writing spark.

I have wanted to be a writer my entire life. I wanted to write novels when I was a little girl. I wanted to be a sports writer in junior high school. In high school I wanted to be an investigative journalist. In college I wanted to freelance for feminist magazines. But my passion never burned so bright as it did when I started writing for children. 

Roald Dahl quote

Image credit: Bloglovin.com

Be honest.

When I first started writing picture book manuscripts I submitted to publishing houses that still accepted unsolicited work. I received one form rejection letter. I didn’t know what I was doing. 

Share books that excited you.

I read more and more picture books and started researching self-publishing. I self-published a picture book in 2012. Will I ever self-publish again? No. Do I regret my decision to self-publish? No. I know plenty of self-published writers who are successful. It just wasn’t for me. But it sent me on an informative path. I Joined SCBWI. I started a website and a blog. I became social media savvy. I connected with authors and illustrators. I gained book signing and school visit experience etc. 

Let your friends and family know what new things you are trying.

Then I joined Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 picture book writing challenge. I found an incredible critique group. I watched webinars and took online picture book writing classes. I participated in Twitter pitch parties. Suddenly I wasn’t getting NO responses and form rejection letters. Progress!

Share your small success stories.

Fast forward to this year. I entered a contest for a picture book writing mentorship (Writing With the Stars) and was selected out of hundreds of talented picture book writers. I entered Michelle Hauck and Sharon Chriscoe’s PB Party contest and was selected out of hundreds of talented kid lit writers. 

Don’t overthink. Stay true to yourself. 

My friends and family probably question my sanity. After all these years of hard work, rejection, and tears (my husband sends me flowers), why do I keep at it?

Flowers from Ian

Share your rejections and the goodies you use to cope. 

BTW, it seems like most picture book writers have an obsession with chocolate, cake, and cookies. I’m more of a salt and vinegar chips like of gal. 

Remind them why you write.

On a more serious note, my goal is not to see my name on a book cover. My goal is to write stories that inspire kids or help them relate or offer a different perspective or make them laugh (when I write something that can make my son giggle as much as he does when he reads STINKY CHEESE MAN, I know I’ve made it.)

In the end it is simple. I have to write. It’s in my heart.

Happiness is following your heart quote 

Be clear about your dreams and goals.

My dream is to be a picture book author. My goal is to sign with a literary agent. So how does this process work?

  • Read thousands of picture books (I read 1,005 last year).
  • Get an idea for a picture book (They come out of nowhere!).
  • Write a rough draft.
  • Revise draft a bazillion times.
  • Send draft to critique group.
  • Revise draft a bazillion more times.
  • Send draft to critique group again. If the group gives me the green light, I send the manuscript to my fantastic mentor, Laura Gehl.
  • Revise manuscript.
  • Send manuscript back to Laura.
  • Revise manuscript again.
  • If Laura gives me the green light I’m ready to submit.
  • Research agents.
  • Write a query letter.
  • Submit to agents.
  • Wait. A. Long. Time.

Your life is your story quote

Writing for children is not easy.

People tell me all the time how easy it must be to write picture books. Here’s the thing: most fiction picture books are 500 words or less so every single word has to matter. Every single word must have purpose and add to story. 

Many argue that writing for children is actually more difficult.

Some Writer!

In Melissa Sweet’s beautiful book, Some Writer!, she includes this quote from E.B. White:

Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth…”

I am a member of 12×12, which means that I have the opportunity to submit to one of two agents every month. (These agents read 12×12 submissions before the slush pile). I research the agents and submit to the one I think is the best fit for my work. 

It’s a LONG process.

What happens next? It depends. Here are a few possible scenarios:

  1. No response from agent.
  2. Form rejection letter.
  3. Champagne rejection letter with feedback.
  4. Revision request.
  5. Agent either rejects revision or asks to see more manuscripts.
  6. Agent loves manuscript and asks to see more work.
  7. Agent turns you down after you send more work. (“You’re close, but not quite there.”) OR
  8. Agents schedules a phone call to discuss your work, goals, career etc.
  9. Agent offers representation.

Great! You have an agent! Now what?

Celebrate with friends and family!

Side note: There are very few publishing houses that accept unagented material. Why? Because editors are busy people who only want to read work that is recommended by people they trust. Agents have relationships with editors. Agents know what editors are looking for.

Is your work over after you get an agent? No. More revising! When your agent says your manuscript is a go, s/he puts a submission package together and sends it to editors.

You wait a long time. AGAIN.

The editor says nay OR requests a revision OR says yea! Most publishing houses have an acquisitions process, which means the editor presents the manuscript to a GROUP of folks who work at the publishing house. Group says nay OR yea!

The publishing house makes an offer.

Celebrate with friends and family!

Side note: bonus of having an agent? The agent negotiates the contract on your behalf. 18 months-2 years later . . . your book is released!

Celebrate some MORE!

What next? Promote your published book with school visits, book signings etc. AND . . .

Work on selling your second book.

Work for cause quote

Image credit: Paperblog.com

Never stop learning and writing! Miranda Paul recently made this comment during a webinar:

“When you stop learning your career is over.”

 

Dream big. Never give up.  

The one thing that you have quote

 

 

 

 

How to Beat Writer’s Block

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I am working on multiple manuscripts in various stages of completion. I tried to develop an idea into a rough draft. Nothing. I tried to revise a rough draft. Nada. I tried to tweak a polished manuscript that was still missing something. Zilch. Did I lose my ability to write? What should I do? How will I get unstuck? Panic. Panic. Panic. I turned off my computer. It cannot be forced. The words will come . . .

My #1 job is being a stay-at-home mom. I beat writer’s block by exploring other creative outlets and reading a lot of mentor texts (picture books). I strive to incorporate reading in most of the activities I do with my children.

Idea jar

My two-year-old daughter, Sophie, and I made a rainy day idea jar. Sophie enjoyed coloring, counting, and putting the popsicle sticks in the mason jar. We came up with a lot of fun ideas!

  • Play dress up
  • Build a blanket fort
  • Put a puzzle together
  • Play hide-and-seek
  • Make a collage
  • Jump in puddles
  • Play the djembe
  • Call Grandma
  • Water the plants
  • Play trains
  • Make cookies
  • Paint
  • Pillow fight
  • Draw on the chalkboard
  • Legos
  • Coloring books
  • Play a board game
  • Pick something from the toy box

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Sophie was ecstatic with the first idea she picked. I turned up the tunes and we boogied down in the kitchen.

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Sophie picked read a book for the next idea. She chose I Dare You Not to Yawn by Helene Boudreau, illustrated by Serge Bloch.

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Idea jars are great tools for writing prompts. Pull out three idea sticks and write a story. This exercise helped me come up with two picture book ideas.

Go for a walk

One of the wonderful benefits of being a SCBWI member is receiving the SCBWI magazine. I read a great article in the latest issue about the correlation between walking and creativity.

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I grabbed the leash and took my dog, Charlie, for a walk to the river. It worked! Ideas for a revision started popping into my head one after another. I keep a pocket-sized notebook and a pen with me at all times because the best ideas come at the most unexpected times. When I am walking with my children I try to remember to be observant and follow their lead. What do they stop to look at? How do they explain what they see? Children share incredible descriptions of their surroundings. Pay attention and take notes. Then read a book about going for a walk when you get home!

Say Hello! by Rachel Isadora celebrates the rich diversity in America’s neighborhoods. Carmelita greets everyone in her neighborhood as she takes her dog, Manny, for a walk. My son is always asking me how to say hello in different languages. These are the hellos you will find in this book: Arabic, French, Spanish, Italian, Swahili, Japanese, Mandarin, and Hebrew.

sayhello

Visit your neighborhood greenhouse

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Get away from the gray and gloom of winter and go to the greenhouse! The vibrant and warm atmosphere will stimulate your senses and get the creative juices flowing.

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Then read a book about gardens! What Does Bunny See?: A Book of Colors and Flowers by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Maggie Smith is a fun rhyming book with page turns children love. A rabbit explores a garden, finding flowers of every color. Rhyming clues invite the reader to answer the question: What does bunny see?

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Study books with creative page turns. How can you build anticipation and make your manuscript interactive?

Be silly!

Don’t be afraid to be silly or get messy. Explore different textures with your kids. Draw designs in flour on the kitchen floor. Make creations out of beans, noodles, buttons, strings, paper bags, and toothpicks. You just might discover a new character or setting for a book.

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Make monsters with your kids. What do they name them? What sounds do they make? How do they move? Put your story in motion through play.

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I never would have imagined playing with window gel clings would lead to a manuscript idea, but it did! Sophie and I put heart gel clings on a window, a drinking glass, and a toilet paper roll, which she claimed was a telescope.

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Sophie had another super idea when she wanted to put the hearts in a book. We picked Here Comes the Easter Cat by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda.

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Why should the Easter Bunny get all the love? That’s what Cat would like to know. So he decides to take over: He dons his sparkly suit, jumps on his Harley, and roars off into the night. But it turns out delivering Easter eggs is hard work. And it doesn’t leave much time for naps (of which Cat has taken five–no, seven). So when a pooped-out Easter Bunny shows up, and with a treat for Cat, what will Cat do? His surprise solution will be stylish, smart, and even–yes–kind.

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Go to the park

It’s important to be around children if you write for children. I write picture books. My children are the perfect ages for this genre. Parks are great locations if you don’t have children or your children are different ages than your target genre. Listen to what they say. Pay attention to the games they invent. Tune into your imagination by observing children as they play.

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Read a book about parks! My son loves Big Machines by Karen Wallace.

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Crash! Scrape! Scrunch! A new park is being built. See big machines in action and find out what they do.

Blog about your writing experiences

What tricks work for you? How do you beat writer’s block? What mentor texts do you recommend? Where do you write? How do you make your writing space work for you? What time of day do you write? Do you write best at home? At a coffee shop? A bookstore? The library?

If you are writing a blog post you are writing something. I often write a blog post when I get stuck on a manuscript. The simple act of writing something else stirs up ideas for other writing projects. It feels great get words on that screen.

Take advantage of the moments when you feel motivated to write. Let your kids occupy themselves even if they turn the house upside down. Leave the mess for later and write, write, write.

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Read an inspirational book about writing. One of my favorites is Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.

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I start all my manuscripts with pen and paper because it is a more intimate experience. I feel more connected to my work. I love the rush when ideas come so fast I get a cramp in my hand as it flies across the paper.

Natalie Goldberg writes, “Handwriting is more connected to the movement of the heart.”

Affirmations

Make affirmations and put them in your work area, on the fridge, on a mirror in the bathroom, in your car. Build your confidence. You are a writer! You are a wordsmith! Never give up. Write every chance you get. Don’t worry about grammatical errors. Let go and write, write, write.

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Make a victory jar

I am a member of the Facebook group Mothers Writing Picture books. One of the women shared a fabulous idea with the group. She made a mission accomplished jar. Sometimes we can only get in 15-20 minuets of writing per day. I often feel like I am not accomplishing much in such a short amount of time. I decided to make my own victory jar to celebrate my writing accomplishments. Progress is progress whether you write 25 words or 250 words. The next time I am feeling down about my writing journey I will reach inside the jar and remind myself of all my hard work. Celebrate success!

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Make an idea jar, go for a walk, visit the greenhouse, be silly, go to the park, write a blog post, make affirmations, make a victory jar, and read! Beat writer’s block and create word strings that sing!

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Be sure to check out all the fabulous kid lit related posts on the Kid Lit Blog Hop!

Kid Lit Blog Hop-Button-FINAL

 

Supporting Your Author Friend

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Laura Best

This post could have been written by my family and friends. It’s all about how to support your authorly friends out there, and since my friends and family have been awesome enough to support me through the publication of two books I wanted to let others in on their tips for supporting an author friend. (I bet most of them didn’t even know they had such tips!) Through the years my friends and family have come up with some ingenious ways to put the word about my books “out there.” I thought I would share these with everyone else out there who would like to know ways to support a certain author but are a bit uncertain about how to do that. Believe me there are plenty of ways, and my friends have done a super, stupendous job.

1. Buy the book-— A lot of my friends bought the…

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We have a ninja, a kangaroo, and a Weimaraner puppy

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Thinking of a picture book idea every day during November for PiBoIdMo has been a piece of cake so far, but it’s only November 4th and I know the challenge will become more difficult.

My six-year old son is a purple belt in taekwondo and my two-year old daughter loves to hop around pretending she’s a kangaroo. After watching Mason show off his moves and Sophie hop around the house, my friend Robin told me, “Your kids are great. One’s a ninja and the other is a kangaroo. It doesn’t get any better than that!”

I laughed and said, “That’s a great idea for a picture book!”

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Mason with his medals at the City of Trees ATA tournament.

There’s never a dull moment at our house. We have a ninja, a kangaroo, and a Weimaraner puppy. I think many of my ideas during PiBoIdMo will come from the crazy stuff Charlie Blue does on a daily basis.

She howls when my son plays the harmonica. She brings back stuff to recycle almost every time we walk. She pulls the kiddos on their sled in the winter. She rolls in smelly stuff. She jumps in the back of the bike trailer when she gets tired. She swims in the river, but she’s afraid of sprinklers. She’s a furniture hog. And the queen of stealing hats . . .

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Ian and Charlie fighting over the chair.

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One of my favorite Charlie moments happened when my daughter was crying hysterically on my lap. Charlie (the biggest food thief in the world) gently carried a graham cracker in her mouth over to Sophie and pushed the cracker up to Sophie’s hand with her nose. My husband, Ian, and I sat dumbfounded for several seconds. Did that really just happen? Wow!

Charlie is my quiet companion on our daily walks. I often come up with my best writing ideas when I take her to the river near our house.

Charlie retrieving the Ninkasi frisbee.

Charlie retrieving the Ninkasi frisbee.

We find cool stuff together like Idaho rock art.

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And for being a big spazzy puppy, she sure is sweet and gentle with Sophie.

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I can’t wait to see what kind of mischief Charlie gets into this month. She might come home smelly with a dirty diaper or a dead squirrel in her mouth (yes, this has happened), but who knows  . . . she might do something that leads to another PiBoIdMo idea in my notebook!

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Juke Box Hero

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piboidmo2014officialparticipant

This is my first year participating in Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo). PiBoIdMo is a writing challenge that encourages picture book writers to develop 30 picture book ideas in 30 days.

My son, Mason, and my daughter, Sophie Ann, inspire me every day. What they say and do keep my writing flame burning bright.

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  • PiBoIdMo Day 1: I completed my first PiBoIdMo idea with ease and worked side-by-side with my six-year old son on some art projects.

This is what I created.

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Mason made this.

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I think it’s pretty clear he is the artist in our family! My favorite part about this project was his explanation of his color choices. “Brown is boring, Mom. Red is my favorite color.” He also let his little sister design the roof :).

Tiny moments in our days have triggered some pretty surprising and fun picture book ideas. Sometimes all it takes is a car ride with music playing on the radio to spark a new idea. I never would have imagined a song by Foreigner would lead to a manuscript idea.

  • PiBoIdMo Day 2: Mason sang “Juke Box Hero” with such gusto, but the best part was his version of the lyrics. Boom. PiBoIdMo idea #2 was born.

My friend keeps a journal of all the funny things his daughters say. I think I am going to start doing this as well. Mason and Sophie have certainly said some hilarious things that I wish I would have written down. Oh! I just thought of one! Mason passed gas at the dinner table one night. “Excuse me,” he said, “my butt is making music.” I don’t think I will turn that one into a picture book, but it still makes me chuckle.

On a sweeter note, he put his head to my chest one time and said, “I can hear your heart, Mom. It’s pumping love.”

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Painted trees. Scarves. Hot tea.

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My grandmother recently passed away. I wrote this farewell letter a few days before she passed. I read it at her service.

Dear Grandma Jeanne,

I’m walking on a path beneath a tree tunnel of yellow, orange, and red. It’s your favorite season and your story is nearing the end. Tears slide under my sunglasses and skip off my chin. You loved fall the most. Painted trees. Scarves. Hot tea.

I don’t get much time by myself these days, but this is my third walk today. I had to stop and sit on this bench by this golden tree under this blue sky and write . . .

Thank you for teaching me it’s okay to be silly. Thank you for showing me the beauty of books. Thank you for inspiring me to write. Thank you for your life-long example of compassion and joy for life.

I will always remember our trip to Victoria, BC. I will always treasure our bedtime stories. I will always cherish the memories we made each summer in Montana.

This fall I will drink hot tea. This fall I will write and write and write. This fall I will dance under falling leaves. This fall I will act as silly as can be with your two great-grandchildren.

This fall, and every fall for the rest of my days, I will celebrate you—your light, your love, your life.

Love always,

Amanda Jean

 

Being silly with Grandma Jeanne and Aunt Georgie.

Being silly with Grandma Jeanne and Aunt Georgie.

One of my favorite books that Grandma Jeanne and I read together.

One of my favorite books that Grandma Jeanne and I read together.

The service truly was a celebration of her life. When it was over, we went outside and released balloons into the big blue Montana sky. I couldn’t take my eyes off them.

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One of my grandma’s life-long goals was to be a published writer. She accomplished this goal. Grandma Jeanne wrote two books, and was working on her third when she passed. I developed my love for writing because of her passion for the written word. I will keep my promise to drink hot tea and write, write, write.

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November is the perfect month for me to start blogging and journaling again. November is Picture Book Month and Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo). This will be my first year participating in PiBoIdMo. I look forward to challenging myself to come up with 30 picture book ideas in 3o days.

I am going to let go and have fun with my writing. I will think of Grandma Jeanne—her silliness, her compassion, her joy. I already have many ideas inspired by her brewing inside of me. Sometimes I think we create the most beautiful word strings when we experience intense emotions such as grief. I will transform my grief into something special. I will celebrate her and honor her each and every time I write.

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Picture Book Dummy, Picture Book Construction: Know Your Layout

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Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

Editorial Anonymous provided a great explanation of basic picture book construction a few months ago.

At that time, I skimmed the info. Today, I’m studying it.

Why? An editor asked me to make page breaks on my current manuscript. And know what? I had more page breaks than a 32-page picture book would allow! Whoops. I knew that my manuscript had to fall within the 500- to 800-word length, but I had neglected to pay attention to logical page breaks.

The editor said, “Page turns can make or break a book, and it can be helpful to an editor to see how you envision the text.”

In a 32-page picture book, you don’t actually have 32 pages for your story. You only have 24 pages since 8 are used for the book ends, copyright and title. And 24 pages translates to 12 spreads (an illustration that spans the two opened pages…

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